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Tech for the Holidays Part 1: Creating a Family Technology Agreement

December 19, 2014

Are you one of the 34% of American adults who bought technology tools on Black Friday or during Thanksgiving Weekend?  If you are, chances are good you were shopping for a tablet or computer, according to a survey on CNET.

And if you’re a parent who plans to give that new tech toy to your child, or allow your children to use it, you probably have some questions.  What are the best apps for kids? How can I help my child use technology for both learning and fun?  How can I keep my child from being glued to a screen and ignoring Grandma during Christmas dinner?

We at the Smarter Schools Project are here to help.  We’ll be doing a short series of blogs on this topic, starting with that final question: what is the best way to set boundaries and expectations for family use of technology (and keep Grandma happy)?

Leading experts agree that talking with your kids is a great first step.  This may include creating a family technology or media agreement.  Rather than parents just laying out a system of rules for children to follow when using technology, a media agreement engages everyone in the dialogue as the family considers what the best guidelines are for use of technology and media at different times—during the school week, on weekends, and even during holidays or other family time.  Matt Levinson’s Edutopia article gives some helpful examples of conversation starters, including “How are we doing as a family with our use of media?”, “How can we have fun together with media?”, and importantly, “What happens when something goes wrong, such as breaking a family agreement or doing something inappropriate with media?”

After having that discussion, write down what you’ve decided.  IKeepSafe provides some great guidelines on creating a win-win agreement, and also provides a sample contract on their site.  After signing the contract, they recommend hanging the agreement somewhere obvious, to serve as a consistent reminder to the family about technology expectations.The Family Online Safety Institute’s Good Digital Parenting series is another useful resource for parents who want to set ground rules for technology.  They even provide 7 simple steps for parents: from “friend and follow, but don’t stalk,” to “be a good digital role model.”

Screen time isn’t the only consideration for parents whose children use technology. That’s why iKeepSafe’s BEaPRO curriculum provides additional information and resources for parents to help their children use technology safely: from talking with younger children about  not giving out personal information online, to supporting older children around issues of cyberbullying or respecting digital privacy when posting about others.

Every family is different, and uses technology in different ways.  But if your family is adding a new screen to the household this holiday season, it may be a good opportunity to start a conversation about how that tool will be used.